Instant Impressions for Week 11
Ray Rice, Larry Fitzgerald return to past glory just before trade deadline
Now comes the hard part.
All circumstances great and small conspired to provide Ray Rice with an opportunity in Week 11, and he took advantage. The Baltimore Ravens got to play against a soft Chicago Bears run defense. Mother Nature pulled a nutty with a massive storm that delayed the game for nearly two hours, and then cursed the second half with high winds that made throwing an adventure and the field a quagmire. And Rice himself took on the underdog role, having failed to gain at least 45 yards rushing in four straight games. It resulted in a 148-total-yard effort, including a 47-yard first-quarter scamper followed up by a 1-yard TD.
So if you're a Rice owner, what do you do? The trade deadline for standard ESPN leagues comes this Wednesday. Do you take this opportunity to try and get something for your first-round RB, even if you can't get "full value" for such an acclaimed player? Do you look at the Ravens' post-Week 12 schedule -- he has an awful matchup against the New York Jets next week, but after that he goes PIT, MIN, @DET, NE, @CIN -- and decide Rice is a man you should keep?
I wish I had a clean answer for you. My tendency is to believe in the full scope of a player's career, and Rice doesn't turn 27 until January. But we have so many consecutive weeks of Rice and that Baltimore offensive line looking awful, I'm also reluctant to change my opinion based on one best-case game. Would I deal him for, say, a No. 2 wideout? Yeah, I probably would, and maybe you think that's overly optimistic for a possible return, but we're talking about Ray Rice. It's possible he could work some magic Weeks 13 through 17, and rescue someone's season.
Remember: Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @CHarrisESPN for more analysis during the week. For now, let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:
• Sticking with the Trade Deadline theme, Larry Fitzgerald owners also have a decision to make. Fitz bounced back from a two-catch week with six grabs for 61 yards including an early-game 14-yard score, partaking in Carson Palmer's ridiculous 419-yard afternoon. As I wrote last week, the Arizona Cardinals have a bear of a final month for a passing game to face; their last four games go: STL, @TEN, @SEA, SF. I'm not completely convinced about the St. Louis Rams; their plus numbers against opposing wideouts could be a result of how easy they've been for opposing rushers to face. But the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are legit. As much as I like Fitz, this is probably a good time to investigate selling high. (The same holds true for Michael Floyd, who caught six balls for 193 yards and a 91-yard TD on Sunday.)
Fantasy Focus Football
Nate Ravitz and Matthew Berry recap Week 11 and discuss believing in Bobby Rainey, Ray Rice's comeback and Matt McGloin's surprise performance.
• I guess the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their decision at running back. After Mike James fractured his ankle last Monday night, Brian Leonard carried the load with Bobby Rainey filling in. As I said all last week, nobody really knew what the Bucs would decide to do with their backfield going forward, because the sample size was so limited. Well, now we know. Rainey was the man: He had 32 touches compared to eight for Leonard. And he did incredible work with all those looks. In the second quarter Sunday, he had a 43-yard TD run and a goal-line score, and then in the third quarter he caught a short TD, as well. All told, Rainey produced 34 fantasy points and lines up as a potential every-week No. 2 fantasy back, just as James had done before his injury. I look forward to breaking down Rainey's tape to see what he's really got under the hood.
• Maybe playing quarterback in the NFL isn't so hard after all, eh? After all, undrafted rookie Matt McGloin went on the road for the Oakland Raiders and upset a Houston Texans defense that, granted, is a shell of its former self, but still. McGloin went 18-of-32 for 197 yards, three TDs and zero picks. Is he a fantasy option? My tendency is to say absolutely not. But in a season where Case Keenum, Terrelle Pryor, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Josh McCown and Jason Campbell have more than occasionally looked startable, who the heck knows?
• And of course, I left the most significant name off that list: Nick Foles. I'm on record as being skeptical of Foles' midseason emergence, and on its face his Week 11 effort is reason for doubt, as Foles didn't throw for a TD, and only rescued his fantasy day via a rushing TD. But if I'm going to criticize the kid for TDs he didn't earn in Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers (because of some awful throws into double coverage that were somehow caught), I have to admit in Sunday's win over the Washington Redskins, Foles' fantasy owners got snake-bitten. The Philadelphia Eagles QB lost out on two TDs: one on a long pass to Brent Celek that was initially ruled a TD but then overturned, and another on a Riley Cooper catch that was also downed at the 1. LeSean McCoy (who looked like he suffered a scary hamstring injury but was able to return to the game and is fine) cleaned up in both cases for short scores, making his day look awesome. But Foles deserved more fantasy points.
• Will Keenum retain the Texans' starting job Week 12 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars? He was benched in the second half Sunday despite not playing all that badly (though he did throw the first interception of his career), as Matt Schaub came in and didn't do much better. And in fact, Schaub and Andre Johnson got into a shouting match over the game's final play. At this point, it seems clear Schaub isn't the future in Houston, so why Gary Kubiak went back to him at all is strange. If it's me, I go back to Keenum.
• What a pair of nonsensically opposed halves we saw in the Pittsburgh Steelers versus Detroit Lions game. After the first stanza, Calvin Johnson had 179 receiving yards (he racked up 163 in the second quarter alone), Antonio Brown had 110 yards and Matthew Stafford had 327 passing yards. And in the second half? Megatron had zero catches. Brown had two for 37. And Stafford had a pathetic 35 yards. And yes, the weather got worse, yet in that same second half, Ben Roethlisberger was 16-of-25 for 131 yards and two TDs. Johnson found the end zone twice in the first half, so his owners probably shouldn't complain; he's got 11 scores on the season, putting him on pace for 17.6, which would be a career high. Brown also scored twice in that memorable first half, but dropped an easy red zone score that would've been his sixth of the year. But it was Stafford who really deserved the goat horns, with a deadly 3-for-15 completion rate after halftime.
• Yeah, um, picking Matt Ryan to bounce back against the Bucs was a terrible call on my part. Ryan used garbage time to hike himself up to 14 fantasy points. Sure, Harry Douglas scored a long TD after breaking away with the score out of the control, and even Roddy White got involved with a late 6-yard TD. But please. Everything about the Atlanta Falcons' offense is a steaming mess. The offensive line creates no room for Steven Jackson, and Jackson isn't capable of evading anyone who's standing right in front of him. Tony Gonzalez can't separate from anyone, which of course doesn't mean he can't play, but his margin for error is slimmer than ever. It's amazing this squad was in the NFC title game last year.
• While I'm in mea culpa mode, here's something I said on radio this week: "The one scenario I can't see in the Jets/Buffalo Bills game is a Bills blowout, not with Steve Johnson and Robert Woods out." Yowza. To be fair to myself, I said this in the context of why I considered Chris Ivory safe, and Ivory did out-touch Bilal Powell 15-to-6 even in a horrendously lopsided loss. But Geno Smith made my impossible scenario a reality by continuing to look lost when opposing defenses bring pressure. Smith's line? 8-of-23 for 103 yards, zero TDs, three INTs and two fumbles, one of which he lost. Matt Simms was in there by the fourth quarter. If the Jets' roller-coaster season to date is any indication, Smith will probably come out and dominate the Ravens next week. But I'm not counting on it.
• Jimmy Graham may have joined the tight end middle class. In his past two games combined, he now has 11 catches for 100 yards and no scores. That's pretty meh. He looked healthier Sunday for sure, and played a heartier snap count, but Drew Brees spread the ball all over the place, including a red zone TD to Benjamin Watson's replacement, Josh Hill. Naturally, Graham is a threat to go off at any moment, and that includes Thursday night's game against the Falcons. But he's starting to show you that no TE can dominate every single week. After being on pace for an 1,898-yard season after five games, Graham is now on pace for 1,288. That would still be a fantastic season, though it wouldn't top his 2011 total.
• Reggie Bush was disastrous Sunday, fumbling twice in the first half (only one counted) and getting benched heading into the second. In Bush's stead, Joique Bell produced 12 touches for 97 yards and a TD, but then hurt an ankle, whereupon Bush returned. Bell's injury notwithstanding, Bush will almost certainly be back in the saddle for Week 12 against the Buccaneers. He's just too important to his team.
• My Ryan Mathews logic may need addressing. My theory has been that Danny Woodhead is more attractive than Mathews even in standard leagues, because he's the third-down back, the short-yardage back and the only RB pass-catcher. Well, the San Diego Chargers may have lost Sunday, but we can't blame Mathews, who had 127 yards on 19 carries. I'm loath to trust this cat, because the moment you do, he breaks something. But this was a game where the Chargers were trailing, and yet Mathews was the main man in the backfield and he looked spry and powerful. That's a surprise, and reason to reassess, though next week against the Kansas City Chiefs doesn't figure to be an easy time.
• Percy Harvin did finally return in Week 11, but he only saw a single target, which he caught for a 17-yard gain. Harvin did add a big kickoff return near the end of the first half which helped sway momentum in the Seahawks' favor, and Seattle's other wideout weapons didn't exactly light it up: Doug Baldwin had two catches (one was a 44-yard score) and Golden Tate had one. This is the Seahawks' offense, kids. Russell Wilson had 18 pass attempts. Until we see a change in the way this team does business on offense, we can't get carried away by Harvin's return.
• If you handcuffed Ben Tate to Arian Foster, be glad. Tate's broken ribs appear to be less and less of a factor, and Sunday he had 23 touches for 117 yards. There's no scenario I can envision where Tate won't be a top-20 option. But he ain't Arian Foster. Late in the game, with less than two minutes left and the Texans trailing by five, on a third-and-goal from the Raiders' 2, Tate was plastered in a way Foster rarely is. Arian Foster is an all-time great when it comes to goal-line work, and unfortunately, in that regard Tate looks like just another guy.
• In that same game, Rashad Jennings kept making Oakland fans wonder why they even bother with Darren McFadden. DMC, an impending free agent, could return from his injured hammy in Week 12 but it's worth asking the question: Should he regain his starting job? Rashad Jennings backed up a 107-yard effort in Week 10 with a whopping 148 yards Sunday, including an 80-yard score on a Wildcat snap. On that play, you got a look at Jennings' impressive straight-ahead speed (this is a 228-pound dude) which has tempted teams for years. It'll be interesting to see what the Raiders decide to do next week against the Tennessee Titans.
• Hi, I'm Mike Wallace. I ran a 4.33 40 at the combine and am considered one of the fastest players in the NFL, which is a major part of why the Miami Dolphins gave me $30 million guaranteed. And so far this year on passes that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air, I've caught three balls. Three. In my four-year career with the Steelers, I had 44. Ryan Tannehill underthrew me on yet another deep ball Sunday, and then stopped tossing it to me deep at all, and I wound up with four catches for 39 yards. Because of this utter mismanagement, I am practically useless in a fantasy league. At this point, if I'm going to make a big play, it'll be such a huge shock that starting me will have been just dumb luck.
• Jordan Reed suffered a first-half concussion and didn't return. Wes Welker also left his game with a possible concussion, on Sunday night, and while he appeared to return for one play, he was quickly ruled out after that. Keenan Allen left the second half Sunday with a knee injury and couldn't play on the Chargers' fateful final drive. Emmanuel Sanders hurt his foot in the first half and couldn't come back after halftime. Darren Sproles suffered a twisted left knee in the first quarter and limped off the field, but was able to return, though his participation seemed somewhat limited thereafter. Andre Ellington had several dreadlocks ripped out of his head, but missed no time. Now that's a trooper.